TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At some point between all the crab jokes — and there were plenty of them Wednesday on Twitter — we need to get down to the reality of the situation.
Jameis Winston needs to take a long look at himself in the mirror.
What does he see?
Winston should be proud of his many accomplishments. He’s 14-0 as Florida State’s starting quarterback, winning a Heisman Trophy at 19 and a national title on Jan. 6, his 20th birthday. And he was a member of the All-ACC academic football team as a freshman.
But Winston should also be disappointed when it comes to his numerous off-field matters, the most severe of which resulted in a sexual assault investigation and the least of which allegedly involved allegedly filling cups with soda from a soft drink machine at a Burger King without paying.
On the football field, Winston excels under pressure and makes good decisions. Off the football field, Winston excels at finding trouble.
The NCAA would never allow it, but Winston could use a full-time, off-duty police officer, mentor or advisor, someone who follows him to class, to practice, to restaurants. If Winston is awake, an off-duty officer would be there with him. It’s absurd to think that a 20-year-old who can do nearly anything he wants on the field, needs such support in real life. But he seemingly does.
Fans and boosters tweeted jokes and Photoshopped images of Winston on Wednesday. But they have also taken to social media and expressed concern about Winston.
Winston has never been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime. But his past, when added up, is troubling.
The sexual assault investigation is concerning, especially when coupled with the comments from State Attorney Willie Meggs in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Meggs laments how the initial investigation was handled and the chance to either prosecute Winston in court or further clear him in the court of public opinion was lost.
By comparison, the other three incidents Winston has been involved in are relatively minor. Allegedly shooting out windows with a BB gun at an apartment complex with a bunch of teammates. Allegedly stealing soda at a fast-food restaurant. Walking out of a grocery store with unpaid goods.
All are minor infractions. But Winston needs to learn that he’s not above the law. The latest incident involves $32.72 of seafood that Winston didn’t pay for at a local Publix. Again, it sounds minor, but is it? Leon County Sheriff Maj. Mike Wood said Wednesday that Winston admitted to deputies that he had forgotten to pay — but did not make an effort to return to the store and admit to the mistake.
By itself, ”crabgate” seems like an innocent mistake. But added in with everything else? It’s a disturbing series of events.
Winston isn’t learning to take better care of himself, his name, his football program and baseball program. But he should.
An indefinite suspension from the baseball team while he completes 20 hours of community service is appropriate. Winston will miss three games this weekend and possibly four more games next week. Perhaps missing playing time — and in effect letting down his teammates by not being available — will be a wake-up call.
The questions now are how and who will be able to help Winston, to help him mature and steer him down the right path. Maybe it’s football coach Jimbo Fisher or baseball coach Mike Martin. Maybe it’s a respected teammate. Maybe it’s a family member or longtime friend.
Winston would be wise to listen to someone that he respects. It’s clear, for example, that he respects former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who was in Winston’s shoes 20 years ago when he won a Heisman and a national title.
But maybe Florida State should consider introducing Winston to a few former college or NFL stars that saw all their opportunities dashed by off-field issues. There are plenty of men out there that had the talent and maybe even the big contract only to see their careers derailed. The message is simple but chilling: ”Don’t follow my path. It could be your path, too.”
Winston should listen. And then he needs to take a long look in the mirror. In the end, he needs to take more responsibility for his life and his actions — not because of what fans or media say. Or because it’s what Fisher, Martin or teammates want. Or because of what the NFL teams or MLB franchises will think.
He should do it because when he looks in the mirror he should be proud of who he is — not just as an athlete but as a man.